Unions at Kimberly-Clark reach deal with potential buyer, but face many lost jobs

By Mike Benbow Herald Writer

EVERETT — Union members at the Kimberly-Clark Corp. plant here have reached a five-year labor agreement with potential buyer Atlas Holdings LLC that would secure jobs for about 300 people.

The company now employs about 750 workers, so if a deal were to go through, many would lose their jobs. And nobody would be guaranteed work. The agreement would require employees to reapply through a process that has yet to be established.

Kimberly-Clark announced in September that if the plant isn’t sold, it would be shut down after the end of the year. The company has been in exclusive talks with Atlas, which has been inspecting the operation and talking with union members.

A new labor agreement with “significant concessions by the union” was approved by 80.8 percent of the membership, Josh Estes, president of Local 183, said Monday morning. Members of two locals, 183 and 644, were involved in the vote.

Under the new plan:

• Nearly all workers would see a pay cut, although pay for workers in a labor pool would increase from $15 an hour to $16.

• There would be no pay increase for three years, followed by a 2 percent increase the third year, 2 percent in the fourth year and 2.5 percent in the fifth year.

• Workers would no longer be able to qualify for a pension.

• The existing 401 (k) plan would continue, but Atlas wouldn’t contribute to it for the first two years.

• Workers would cover 20 percent of medical and dental costs. Kimberly-Clark had paid them a flat amount for health care.

• Workers on later shifts wouldn’t receive extra pay.

• People working on Sunday would no longer receive time and a half.

• Employees would give up paid days off on Dec. 24 and July 3.

“Even with all of the takeaways that we had to deal with, and the concessions that were reached, the membership in this situation really rose to the occasion to give their fellow brothers and sisters a chance at future employment,” said Frank Prochaska, the local representative for the Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers. “Turnout was high, and the result was significant, and even if every member that did not vote turned out and voted no, the contract would still have passed.”

Estes noted that the biggest cuts in the agreement come in the first two years of operation because company officials believe it would take them two years to establish a full customer base.

“We wanted to give them the ultimate chance they need to get there,” he said.

Estes said that although many existing workers will lose their jobs and others will have to reapply, that’s better than everyone losing work.

“It still gives us a chance for 300 jobs,” he said.

He added that it’s “now up to Kimberly-Clark to make this happen.”

“It’s tough,” he added. “People are scared, confused, and are kind of on pins and needles waiting for an outcome.”

The union vote doesn’t guarantee a sale, but support by the union was an important part of the deal for Atlas.

“Yesterday’s affirmative vote by the Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers is a critical step toward a successful sale of the Kimberly-Clark plant,” said Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash. “These successful negotiations show how serious Atlas Holdings is considering buying the Kimberly-Clark mill.”

Estes said talks with the company took about two weeks.

“The union has worked hard for the last half century to secure many of the things that we ended up parting with in this negotiation,” Estes said. “The union also recognizes that starting this facility up as a going concern with a new labor agreement and an initial potential of 250 hourly employees gives this community the best chance at keeping family-wage jobs on the Everett waterfront.”

Estes said he now hopes Kimberly-Clark will come to terms on an agreement “that gives us a fighting chance here in Everett.”

Troy McClelland, CEO of Economic Alliance Snohomish County, said the vote was good news.

“We are happy to see this positive next step and are encouraged that all parties continue to see value in this opportunity for Atlas, the employees, their families and the greater community,” he said.

Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson agreed.

“Ratification of this contract is a good step toward the possibility that Kimberly-Clark Corp. and Atlas can come to a purchase and sale agreement for the facility on the Everett waterfront,” he said. “The employees have shown their willingness and commitment to keep the mill open and preserve as many jobs as possible.”